Discover more from Letters from an American
October 5, 2021
Today, Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security. Haugen noted that Facebook co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg controls about 58% of Facebook’s voting shares, meaning he sets the terms of the company’s behavior. Her documents, illustrating that Facebook addressed only about 1% of hate violent speech and that its own algorithms pushed disinformation, supported her general observations about the need for government regulation of the social media giant.
While Haugen was testifying, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone reinforced that message when he texted the ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, to note that Haugen had not worked directly on issues of child safety or Instagram at Facebook, facts Haugen had already established.
Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch issued a statement attacking Haugen as untrustworthy but saying, “we agree…it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet…. [I]t is time for Congress to act.”
Tonight Zuckerberg responded in a Facebook post of his own. He echoed Pietsch’s call for government regulation.He called the recent coverage of the company a “false picture,” with claims that “don’t make any sense” because the company has “established an industry-leading standard for transparency.” He wrote that “[w]e care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health.” He says it is “just not true” that “we prioritize profit over safety and well-being,” and that it is “deeply illogical” that they “deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit.” “It’s very important” to him, he says, “that everything we build is safe and good for kids.”
While information about Facebook has demonstrated the dangers the social media giant poses for our democracy, the congressional fight over the debt ceiling has brought into relief a different struggle for the same cause.
The Republican Party has now swung almost entirely behind former president Trump—one heck of a gamble as his legal jeopardy continues to mount. Today, a New York state court said Trump must give a deposition in the defamation case brought against him by Summer Zervos, the former "Apprentice" contestant who said he sexually assaulted her and sued him for defamation after he called her a liar. And as the January 6 committee continues to take evidence, bipartisan groups of lawyers have asked legal organizations to investigate and possibly disbar the lawyers who backed Trump’s attempted coup, John Eastman and Jeffrey Bossert Clark.
Nonetheless, right-wing insurgents are tripping over each other to move to extreme positions behind the positions of the former president.
In Idaho today, for example, as soon as the state’s governor, Republican Brad Little, left the state for Texas to meet with nine other Republican governors about President Biden’s approach to securing the border, Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin, who is challenging Little for governor next year, flexed her muscles over the state. She issued an executive order declaring she had “fixed” Little’s executive order prohibiting the government from requiring proof of vaccines to access services by extending the prohibition to schools, saying “I will continue to fight for your individual Liberty!” Then she enquired about activating the Idaho National Guard to go to the southern border.
Little promptly responded to her declarations with his own statement calling her actions “political grandstanding,” noting that he had not authorized her to act on his behalf, and saying he would be “rescinding and reversing any actions taken by the Lt. Governor when I return.” In the midst of all this posturing, Idaho is suffering a spike in coronavirus cases, with death rates at nearly three times the national average.
But while Republican leaders have encouraged the rush to the right because it fires up the party’s base voters, it may now have painted them into a corner from which they’re hoping the Democrats will rescue them.
The fight over the debt ceiling suggests that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is no longer in control of his caucus.
The debt ceiling is a cap on how much the Treasury can borrow to meet its obligations. We are now in trouble because under former president Trump, Congress created $7.8 trillion of debt, and now the Treasury cannot borrow to pay back that money. Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, have said they want the ceiling lifted, but they want Democrats to do it on their own.
But Republicans do not want the ceiling lifted by a simple vote, which the Democrats tried and the Republicans filibustered. They want to force the Democrats to raise the ceiling under the process of reconciliation, which cannot be filibustered. This would prevent the Democrats from using the reconciliation process for their infrastructure package that would support human infrastructure like child care and elder care, and address climate change.
Yesterday, Democrats called Republicans out on this manipulation, and today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) set up a vote on the debt ceiling for Wednesday. Democrats today suggested that McConnell and the Republicans are not simply trying to stop the Democrats’ infrastructure plans, but want to sow chaos by crashing the economy. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wondered on Twitter whether the billionaires “who prop up McConnell actually want a default” so “out of ashes they can build their new oligarchy.”
But tonight Adam Jentleson, an expert on the Senate whose knowledge of the institution is unparalleled among scholars, pointed out that McConnell seems unable to agree to let the Democrats save the country by a simple vote because five or six Republican senators will refuse. So, unable to control them, he seems to be forcing Democrats into a position in which they have no choice but to break the filibuster. Jentleson suggests McConnell knows that his own caucus might obstruct even reconciliation, so he is trying to open a door to make sure Democrats can keep the nation from defaulting and crashing the U.S. economy.
The fall of the Republican Party into the hands of extremists who are willing to destroy it recently prompted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare, “I'm astonished that more people don’t see, or can’t face, America’s existential crisis.”
Restoring sanity to the country will require free and fair elections, which, after years of Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression, will require federal legislation. The time for that to be most effective is running out, as Republican-dominated states are currently in the process of redistricting, which will determine their congressional districts for the next decade.
Today, in the Senate, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This measure would restore the parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court gutted in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder and the 2021 Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decisions. Of the three voting acts currently in play, the John Lewis Act seems like the easiest to pass, since Congress has repeatedly reauthorized the 1965 Voting Rights Act, most recently in 2006 by a vote of 98–0 in the Senate and 390–33 in the House of Representatives.
And yet, even this measure will be a hard sell for today’s extremist Republicans. When House Democrats brought the John Lewis bill up for a vote in August, not a single Republican voted for it.